Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth

by Tom Stoppard

"Words can be your friend or your enemy,
depending on who's throwing the book, so
watch your language."

-- from Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth

From February 20 through March 2, Theatre Arts at the California Institute of Technology presents Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth, written by Tom Stoppard and directed by Caltech graduate student Maneesh Sahani, will open at Caltech on February 20. Like Stoppard's most famous play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, this work is a masterpiece of intellectual wordplay built on Shakespearean foundations. The two plays in Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth are divided by a comma but united by a common theme: the mutability of language.

Wittgenstein's philosophical musings on the acquisition of language provided Stoppard with the inspiration for Dogg's Hamlet. In this play, Stoppard confronts the audience with three schoolchildren (undergraduates Marjorie James, Rowena Lohman, and Phillip Rodriguez) speaking a language called Dogg, in which familiar words and phrases are mapped to entirely new meanings (for instance, "very true" now means "needs salt"). The children are preparing to present a school production of Shakespeare's Hamlet in English -- which to them is a foreign language. Even the officious school headmaster (JPL scientist Mark Adler) cannot control the uproariously funny confusions of word and meaning which result. The language antics are intensified by the arrival of Easy (graduate student Fritz Kruger), a deliveryman who speaks only English. By the time the school's hilariously abbreviated performance of Hamlet screeches to a halt, Stoppard has succeeded in teaching the audience to understand more clearly both Dogg and the frailty of our interpretations of words.

Cahoot's Macbeth explores more sinister forms of verbal manipulation. In this story of artists struggling for free expression behind the Iron Curtain, the twisting of words is not a source of amusement but a tool of oppression. Stoppard wrote Cahoot's Macbeth in honor of the Czechoslovakian playwright Pavel Kohout (portrayed by undergraduate Joseph Cook), who, along with many other artists, was banned from practicing his craft after the crushing of the Prague Spring. In defiance of the ban, Kohout formed the "Living-Room Theatre" troupe, which included the famous Czech actors Pavel Landovsky (graduate student James Gleeson) and Vlasta Chramostova (Jennifer Snipstad). This group of blacklisted theater artists worked as street-sweepers and waitresses by day, and performed plays secretly, in friends' homes, at night.

Once such home performance -- an abridgement of Macbeth -- is taking place in Cahoot's Macbeth. Unlike the absurdly frantic Hamlet, this reduced Macbeth is a stark and moving play, a metaphor for the communist takeover. The performance is interrupted by the arrival of an Inspector of the Secret Police (Caltech staff member Ben Ortega), investigating the actors for "acting out of hostility to the state." With the Inspector's presence adding danger to every word, the performance of Macbeth continues and the tension builds -- until Easy appears again, this time speaking Dogg. Through this collision of worlds and words, Stoppard redeems language from the Inspector's twisted metaphors; the tool of oppression is transformed into a means of liberation.

Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth will be performed in Ramo Auditorium on the Caltech campus at 8 pm February 20, 21, 22, 27, 28 & March 1, and at 2 pm February 23 & March 2. Tickets are $10.00 general admission ($5.00 for students). To contact the Caltech Ticket Office, call (800) 423-8849 or (818) 395-4652; fax (818) 795-1378; send mail to Ticket Office, Caltech 332-92, Pasadena CA 91125; email; or access Persons with disabilities may call (818) 395-3700 (TDD) or (818) 395-4688 (voice). Group rates and free theatre parking are available.

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